Latest Developments, January 3

In the latest news and analysis…

Condoning secrecy
Reuters reports that an American judge has ruled the US government does not have to justify its targeted killings:

“[U.S. District Judge Colleen] McMahon appeared reluctant to rule as she did, noting in her decision that disclosure could help the public understand the ‘vast and seemingly ever-growing exercise in which we have been engaged for well over a decade, at great cost in lives, treasure, and (at least in the minds of some) personal liberty.’
Nonetheless, she said the government was not obligated to turn over materials the Times had sought under the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), even though it had such materials in its possession.
‘The Alice-in-Wonderland nature of this pronouncement is not lost on me,’ McMahon said in her 68-page decision.”

Drone stats
The News reports that Pakistani government statistics indicate US drone strikes have killed four times more children than “high value CIA targets” since 2004:

“According to facts and figures compiled by the Ministry of Interior, of the 2,670 people killed by the US drones, 487 were innocent civilians including 171 children and 43 women. Of the remaining 2,183 people killed by the drones, hardly 42 were high value CIA targets while the rest of 2,141 people were believed to be low and mid-level al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked operatives.”

Five-star development
A Pro Publica investigation concludes that the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, ostensibly set up to help reduce global poverty through promotion of private investment in poor countries, “likes to work with huge corporations, funding projects these companies could finance themselves”:

“Today, the IFC’s booming list of business partners reads like a who’s who of giant multinational corporations: Dow Chemical, DuPont, Mitsubishi, Vodafone, and many more. It has funded fast-food chains like Domino’s Pizza in South Africa and Kentucky Fried Chicken in Jamaica. It invests in upscale shopping malls in Egypt, Ghana, the former Soviet republics, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. It backs candy-shop chains in Argentina and Bangladesh; breweries with global beer behemoths like SABMiller and with other breweries in the Czech Republic, Laos, Romania, Russia, and Tanzania; and soft-drink distribution for the likes of Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and their competitors in Cambodia, Ethiopia, Mali, Russia, South Sudan, Uzbekistan, and more.
The criticism of most such investments—from a broad array of academics and watchdog groups as well as local organizations in the poor countries themselves—is that they make little impact on poverty and could just as easily be undertaken without IFC subsidies. In some cases, critics contend, the projects hold back development and exacerbate poverty, not to mention subjecting affected countries to pollution and other ills.”

Bounty hunters
The BBC reports on the spam-like and mistake-prone methods of a private company hired by the British government to track down people thought to be in the UK illegally:

“Migrants are contacted by text message, telephone or email.
The standard text message reads: ‘Message from the UK Border Agency. You are required to leave the UK as you no longer have the right to remain.’ It then advises people to contact the agency.

Capita was hired to trace those in the pool and warn them that they are required to leave the country. The firm will be paid depending on how many actually go back to their home country.”

Let them eat cake
Bloomberg reports that “the richest people on the planet” became even wealthier in 2012:

“The aggregate net worth of the world’s top moguls stood at $1.9 trillion at the market close on Dec. 31, according to the index. Retail and telecommunications fortunes surged about 20 percent on average during the year. Of the 100 people who appeared on the final ranking of 2012, only 16 registered a net loss for the 12-month period.
‘Last year was a great one for the world’s billionaires,’ said John Catsimatidis, the billionaire owner of Red Apple Group Inc., in an e-mail written poolside on his BlackBerry in the Bahamas.”

Extermination risk
The Guardian reports that Peru’s “biggest indigenous federation” intends to look to the country’s courts to stop the expansion of natural gas extraction in a remote area of the Amazon by a consortium that includes US, Korean and Spanish companies:

“[The Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest (Aidesep)] said the plans by Peru’s energy and mines ministry to increase exploration and drilling in Block 88, the largest gasfield leased by the Camisea consortium, risk the existence of nomadic groups living in ‘voluntary isolation’ in the Nahua-Kupakagori indigenous reserve, 23% of which overlaps the gas block in the country’s south-eastern jungle.

The risks of ‘unwanted’ contact are well-documented. Around 60% of the isolated Nahua people died during a series of epidemics after their first contact with outsiders soon after oil company Shell discovered the gasfields in 1984.”

Banned exports
The Globe and Mail reports that the Canadian government has offered its arms merchants “new market opportunities” by allowing them to export to Colombia assault weapons banned in Canada:

“Now, Colombia has been added to a list that includes Canada’s 27 NATO allies – along with Australia, Finland, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Sweden and Botswana – where prohibited firearms manufactured in this country may be sold.
The government notice says the amendment is ‘consistent with the aim of the [Automatic Firearms Country Control List] to promote transparency in the export and transfer of prohibited firearms, prohibited weapons and prohibited devices by making public that Canada will now consider export permit applications for the export of those items to Colombia.’ ”

Humanitarian cover
Senegal/Mali-based journalist Peter Tinti writes that debates in Washington over the US approach to counterterrorism in Africa have more to do with “keeping policy frameworks apace with practice” than actually shaping that practice:

“Under the Obama administration, U.S. military operations in Africa have rapidly expanded in scope, depth and breadth, creating a skeletal infrastructure that enables a panoply of near-constant training exercises with partner governments — as well as clandestine activities.
Though Camp Lemmonier in Djibouti is technically the only permanent U.S. military base in Africa, in reality, there are hundreds of military outposts and locations dotting the continent, with several thousand uniformed U.S. military and civilian Department of Defense personnel, as well as an unknown number of defense contractors, working across the continent at any one time. U.S. special operations forces regularly work within civil-affairs and humanitarian assignments that provide cover for covert counterterrorism activities.”

Latest Developments, October 26

In the latest news and analysis…

War hub
The Washington post reports that Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti has become “the centerpiece of an expanding constellation of half a dozen U.S. drone and surveillance bases in Africa”:

“Lemonnier also has become a hub for conventional aircraft. In October 2011, the military boosted the airpower at the base by deploying a squadron of F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jets, which can fly faster and carry more munitions than Predators.
In its written responses, Africa Command confirmed the warplanes’ presence but declined to answer questions about their mission. Two former U.S. defense officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the F-15s are flying combat sorties over Yemen, an undeclared development in the growing war against al-Qaeda forces there.
The drones and other military aircraft have crowded the skies over the Horn of Africa so much that the risk of an aviation disaster has soared.”

Damaging paradigm
The Guardian reports that the UN has announced plans to investigate the legality of US drone strikes that kill civilians:

“The investigation unit will also look at ‘other forms of targeted killing conducted in counter-terrorism operations, in which it is alleged that civilian casualties have been inflicted’. [Ben Emmerson, a UN special rapporteur] maintained that the US stance that it can conduct counter-terrorism operations against al-Qaida or other groups anywhere in the world because it is deemed to be an international conflict was indefensible.

‘The global war paradigm has done immense damage to a previously shared international consensus on the legal framework underlying both international human rights law and international humanitarian law,’ he said. ‘It has also given a spurious justification to a range of serious human rights and humanitarian law violations.
‘The [global] war paradigm was always based on the flimsiest of reasoning, and was not supported even by close allies of the US.’ ”

Monopoly miracle
GaveKal Dragonomics’ Anatole Kaletsky writes that a revolution in economic thinking may have begun:

“In a research paper that has gone viral among economists, Jaromir Benes and Michael Kumhof, two senior IMF staffers, describe a reform of monetary management that could potentially restore all the output lost in the Great Recession and simultaneously eliminate the government debt burdens of the United States, Britain and most European countries.
These miracles could be achieved without painful tax increases or spending cuts, by restoring to governments the exclusive right to create money they gradually lost to commercial banks. The monopoly right to create money generates a ‘seignorage tax,’ whose capital value is roughly 100 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product, according to the IMF calculations. Transferring this enormous benefit from banks back to governments would allow most national debts to be paid off.”

Price fixing
Agence France-Presse reports that oil giants Chevron, Shell, Total & BP are being accused of “colluding to rig consumer prices since the 1980s” in South Africa:

“Following ‘wide-ranging investigations’ since 2009, the Competition Commission said it had uncovered ‘collusive conduct’ that stretched back decades, and had referred the case to the Competition Tribunal for judgement.
The commission recommended that each company be fined 10 percent of total turnover from their South African business for the last financial year.
‘The investigation revealed collusive conduct through extensive exchanges of commercially sensitive information by the respondent oil companies,’ it said.
The information was said to include detailed monthly sales figures and collusion to influence the regulatory environment.
The products included petrol, diesel, kerosene, heavy furnace oil, bitumen, liquid petroleum gas and lubricants, and specific grades within these categories.”

Controversial complex
Al Jazeera asks whether Haiti’s new $300 million, Clinton-endorsed Caracol industrial park will be a boon for the country’s economy or “a glorified sweatshop”:

“Already workers allege that foreign companies are not even paying the minimum wage of $5 a day.
Local farmers say they were also forced off their land to make way for the development.

‘The biggest question is that Caracol has kind of taken all the oxygen out of the room, it’s all that people talk about, and yet it’s going to create at the maximum over six years 65,000 jobs, which is really a drop in the bucket,’ according to Haiti working group chairman Robert Maguire.”

Setting the bar
Oxfam’s Hannah Stoddart takes issue with the World Bank’s claims that it is only involved in “a few cases” of potential land grabs:

“First, given the Bank’s mandate for poverty alleviation, even one land-grab case is a case too many.
Secondly, in reality we know that there are very likely more than a few controversial cases relating to land. 21 cases involving land disputes have been brought by communities since 2008 (Oxfam is involved as a complainant in a number of them). We also know that between 2000 – 2012, 56% of the complaints to the Compliance Adviser Ombudsman (CAO) have been in relation to land. The CAO also confirms that in the past 4 years there has been a growing number of complaints in relation to agri-business.
Lastly, while the World Bank may not the worst culprit when it comes to land-grabbing, it IS the only global bank with a mandate for poverty alleviation and it is a crucial institution for setting the bar high in this area. In other words, we believe that if Oxfam can’t convince the World Bank to raise its standards, we have no hope of getting other financing institutions to do so.”

Just say no
The Guardian reports that the British government is thus far refusing to allow its bases to be used for a build-up of US troops in the Gulf:

“[British ministers] have pointed US officials to legal advice drafted by the attorney general’s office which has been circulated to Downing Street, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence.
This makes clear that Iran, which has consistently denied it has plans to develop a nuclear weapon, does not currently represent ‘a clear and present threat’. Providing assistance to forces that could be involved in a pre-emptive strike would be a clear breach of international law, it states.”

Humanizing finance
The Financial Times reports that credit rating agencies from the US, China and Russia are claiming their new joint venture will change the way global financial risk is assessed:

“In a joint declaration, the three agencies described their mission in grand terms.
‘It is an historic imperative to establish a new type of international credit rating system which follows the inherent requirements of credit rating and which is aligned to the common interests of human society,’ they said.”